Essays about life in Italy, traveling in Italy, and more
Fall 2000 - Switzerland and Italy
Two Nights Ravenna
Thursday, October 12
We left Locarno in the morning and drove to Ravenna. The rain stopped for a few minutes in Locarno, but poured on the drive from Locarno to Milan and on into the Po Valley. The rain stopped near Parma and then it was hot (80s) and very humid.
Note: This region of Italy and Switzerland was badly flooded a few days later. People were evacuated and roads were closed. A town we had driven by on the Simplon Pass was taken away in a mudslide and many people were killed. We watched the coverage on the news in Spello the next week.
The driving was very hard. It rained all the way to Parma, then the sun came out and it was hot. We checked into our hotel in Ravenna and put the car in a parking garage. The hotel is a good location (but the street was noisy), but was a boring modern building. The rooms were nice, but small. The room got very hot at night (muggy) and if you had the window open there was noise from the street. There were not many cars, but you could hear them and the people.
Ravenna is a beautiful city. It has a large historic district full of restaurants, caffes and shops. Just outside the city, to the east on the Adriatic shore, is a huge industrial area. This probably why the town is so prosperous. We came to see the mosaics, but tonight we just walked around the town and went out for a nice dinner in a small restaurant.
Friday, October 13
Overcast but mild. A few light showers. Not as muggy as yesterday.
The mosaics in Ravenna are wonderful. See Things to Do: Ravenna for a description of them. We spent the day going from place to place looking at mosaics. Had slices of pizza for lunch. Went to a caffe on Piazza del Popolo for espresso - had it standing at the bar and they served the espresso with a small glass of water. Very elegant. After seeing all the churches and mosaics, we decided to do something different and walked outside the town, into the traffic and horrible smelling industrial smog, to the Mausoleum of Theodoric. Theodoric ruled here in the 500s or so (I think) and built himself this Mausoleum. The roof is one huge rock. This is a big tourist sight with the Germans - to remind them of the time that their ancestors ruled this region.
Out for a nice dinner. The meals are served faster here than we are used to in Tuscany. You can have your dinner easily in just over an hour. In Tuscany it is always 2 or 3 hours.
One Week in Spello
Saturday, October 14
Today we drove to our vacation rental in Spello (Umbria). First we stopped just outside of Ravenna for one last church with mosaics. Got lost looking for the church in Classe, but found it after searching down many streets. And it was worth it - fabulous mosaics. One huge picture filling the apse. Beautiful colors - flocks of sheep on green grass.
Drove to Urbino, a hill town in the Marche region with the last picture in the Piero della Francesca trail. We had seen all the others and always wanted to see this one, but Urbino is a long drive from Tuscany or even most parts of Umbria. The town is beautiful - perhaps the steepest streets we have ever encountered (and I found out after that there is an elevator from one of the parking areas). The art gallery is in the Ducal Palace. Piero della Francesca's picture is "Flagellation". It was small and not as great as the others (in my opinion). But the Ideal City (maybe by him) was great. Many other very good paintings.
Just as we were leaving, we remembered that there are frescos here! It was just before 3pm and the church opened at 3pm. We found it and went in just ahead of a large group. A very small church with a few good frescoes.
Drove to Spello. We had been in Spello just once before in 1999 for the afternoon. It is a lovely town. The church has beautiful frescoes by Pinturichio. There is an enotecca that sells organic olive oil. Last time we took home a 5-liter tin. We did this time too.
We had booked the apartment Zaffiro (through Gorgace Rentals), but Walter wanted us to take Perla because it was empty and had a better view. Zaffiro is on the ground level - a few steps down from the street. Perla is above it. But it was very small. My first thought was why was there a couch in the kitchen? Then I realized that was the living room too. It was hardly a one bedroom (sliding panels made the bed area separate) - more like a studio. This had been my main concern when booking the apartment, but Gorgace Rentals assured me the apartments were a good size and were comfortable. Wrong. From now on I will ask the exact measurement. An apartment needs to be at least 500 square feet (50 square meters) to feel spacious.
We asked if there was anything bigger and Walter said there might be. One of their apartments was being renovated and it had been finished early. We went to see it and loved it. So we paid a little more and rented Gardino. It is an apartment on the upper floor of a house on a lane off the main street. A nice older couple live below. It has one big kitchen, dining room, living room, then a nice bedroom and a bathroom. Nice antique furniture. Small kitchen counter area. Stove (gas), oven, one sink, drying cupboard. Good pots and everything else. A small TV with Italian stations. No phone, but we found a phone outlet and used it with the computer. The windows all have screens. The apartment is quiet, and has many windows with great views of the town and countryside. To get to the apartment, you walk 100 steps up from the street. You park a 5-minute walk away. I have pictures of this apartment on a separate page.
Sunday, October 15
Overcast and poured rain all day until the evening.
Another off day. Spent the day reading and napping. Finally the rain stopped so we walked down the main street of Spello. Spello is an enchanting town, full of narrow lanes, beautifully restored buildings, nice shops, and a church with Pinturichio frescoes that we love.
Monday, October 16
Overcast today with a few drops of rain.
Well, tonight we got a fax from Tony, our house sitter, saying that we have to go home early. Pauline has been waiting for 3 years to have her interview for citizenship in the US and the letter had just arrived. There is no changing the interview date, so we made a bunch of phone calls from the booth in the piazza and canceled the last part of the trip. We are flying home in a week. We have never had to cancel any part of a trip before!
There is a good bakery in Spello - artiganale - just a few steps down the road. Most days we got fresh bread in the morning. Today we drove to Montefalco. Took 40 minutes to get there - looked closer on the map! Found the church with the frescoes that we wanted to see, but they are being restored, so we could not see them. They said to come back at 5pm. Had a nice lunch in Montefalco.
It was raining lightly. Drove to another church at the edge of town with fading frescos. Drove to Bevagna and spent a few hours walking all over the town. They have a restored Roman bath with mosaics (black and white showing sea creatures). The town is very small - only a few stores, a couple of caffes. Very beautiful and surrounded by beautiful countryside. Lots of olive trees.
Drove back to Montefalco for 5pm only to be told that we would not be able to see the frescoes after all. Drove home, but got lost in Foligno. Pauline did some driving today. I drove quite a bit in Switzerland, but this was my first Italy driving.
Steve is just reading an article from the International Herald Tribune - the town of Gondo on the Simplon Pass road in Switzerland was washed away with a mudslide on Saturday. We drove through there on Wednesday. People were evacuated from parts of Locarno because of raising lake waters.
Tuesday, October 17
Overcast and colder. A few drops of rain. We turned the heat on tonight.
The coffee maker in the apartment (just one of those cheap aluminum espresso pots) isn't working well, so we just bought ourselves a nice, better quality one in town. We usually bring our espresso pot with us on these trips (because the ones you get in the apartments can be kind of yucky), but we didn't this time.
Today we drove to Assisi - just 20 minutes away. The town was crowded. There were many tour groups for the Jubileo 2000 (Catholic year of celebration in Italy). Went to the main cathedral. We were last her before the September 1997 earthquake. The Giottos were in better shape than I thought they would be after the earthquake. It seems like the upper frescos were more damaged. Had a good look at the Giotto series about St. Francis. Went to the lower cathedral, but it felt hot and close and crowded with all the people. We left quickly.
Had lunch in Assisi. We saw a sign at a restaurant saying fresh porcini and asked if we could get it grilled (we could) but when we ordered we were told none left (we were the only people there). Bait and switch right here in Assisi! Still, it was a good meal.
Drove up Monte Subasio to the place where St. Francis meditated in a grotto. Did a short hike in the woods. To get to the St. Francis grotto you went deep in the building down narrow staircases and through small doors that you had to bend over to get through. I have nightmares about situations like this! I turned back. Steve kept going (he doesn't share my irrational fear of small spaces).
Took about 1 hour to drive over Monte Subasio. It is very barren at top. We saw people picking mushrooms in the wide-open fields. There were great views of Spello on the way back through the olive groves.
Wednesday, October 18
Foggy today until around 4pm when it lifted and was sunny.
A little about Spello: There are 4 or 5 caffes inside the city walls. Another few just outside the walls. There are 5 or 6 restaurants inside the city walls; 2 places for pizza. Another couple just outside the walls. Probably 4 or 5 alimentari (also with fruit and vegetables), 4 enoteca, one newspaper store just off the main piazza. The main piazza has lots of cars parked in it and no caffe, so doesn't really work for hanging out. During the passagiata people just gather in doorways or walk up the main street.
Today we explored Spello. In the morning we walked down the main street, looked at the frescoes again, bought wonderful Italy-made napkins in the store across from the church, found a cat that is not like any Italian cat (we patted it), walked outside the main gate to the market. Bought chestnuts to take home. Walked to the Roman Amphitheater, but you could not go in. Just a hole with a few columns. Walked back up into the town via Porta Venere (very steep and pretty). Got some groceries and went home for lunch.
In the later afternoon we headed out again. Had coffee and a pastry in a caffe. Looked at the frescoes again. Went into an enotecca we saw earlier today - it advertises organic olive oil. They were giving out tastings of everything to everyone. We had to say no to wine and a horrified no to cingale (Steve said we are vegetarians - so they brought us truffle paste). We bought some truffle paste, chestnut honey, olive oil and noodles. It took a long time to make the purchase but they let us taste this Truffle Amaro we saw - a truffle apertivo - horrible. Sweet, not like you would expect. So it was worth the hanging around.
Thursday, October 19
Started out foggy, but nice and sunny by noon.
Today we drove to Spoleto. We spent 3 nights here in June 1997. We parked just outside the city walls and walked all the way up and up to the main part of town. More stores than I remembered. Lots of clothing stores (many with US things). Got a couple of books to take home, had a coffee, looked at restaurant menus. Had lunch where we ate a couple of times back in 1997.
Walked up to the Duomo to see the frescoes. Wonderful. Walked around town a bit. Walked back to the car and drove to church outside of town with carvings on the front. Stopped at Trevi on the way home. Very small town, only a couple of caffes. Looked better from below than when you are in it. There is lots of earthquake damage; the church was closed and covered in scaffolding.
Friday, October 20
Finally a nice day. Sunny. Some fog in the morning. Steve's birthday.
Walked into Spello and went to the church to see the frescoes again. This time we also went to the Pinnoteca (gallery). Today we drove to another nearby town, Bettona, and went to the art gallery - some Peruginos. Drove to Montefalco to see if we could see the frescoes, but we could not. They will be available Nov. 1. Had my first limoncello at a bar on the piazza. Pauline did some driving today.
Went out for dinner in Spello to celebrate Steve's birthday. A very nice dinner.
Two Nights in Tuscany
Saturday, October 21
Beautiful and sunny all day. Warm in the middle of the day. Cold evening.
Today we leave Spello and go to our next vacation rental in southern Tuscany. Check out of our Spello apartment. We had to pay extra for heat (40,000 lire (about $20) for the week) and the phone. It took nearly two hours to drive to Pienza. The roads around Montepulciano and Pienza were very slow (winding and there were many slow drivers). We had arranged to meet Zak from TuscanHouse (the agency we had used to book our Tuscany vacation rental) at one of his houses near Pienza. We have already booked this house, La Fornacina, for 3 weeks in September 2001 and Zak wanted us to see the house and meet the American owners.
We had a wonderful time. The house is beautiful; the American owners were charming and friendly. They showed us everything around the house and property. We spent the afternoon visiting with them.
Drove to our vacation rental near Palazzone. It is a charming little house on the edge of a vineyard (with beautiful views). We are only staying 2 nights, but we had booked 14 nights. We would have been very happy here for the 2 weeks. Went into Piazze for some groceries and a pizza dinner.
Sunday, October 22
Beautiful and sunny all day. Warm in the middle of the day - cools off quickly. Gets dark around 6:30. Today is our last day.
The house, La Vigna, is nice. It is about 500 sq feet; the same size as our Spello apartment. It is very private - at the edge of woods and a vineyard. Nice views. In good shape. Nice windows, good heating system, small kitchen with 4-burner gas stove, oven, small dishwasher, fridge, and freezer. Small stone sink that might be hard to use. Good dishes and pots and pans. Good kitchen lights and bedroom lights. No reading light in the living room. TV with Italian channels. No phone. Fireplace (but no wood or anything left for us). Good towels. Parking just outside the house. Sitting area on the edge of the gravel parking area. You walk up to the main farm area with two farmhouses, two vacation rentals and a nice pool. Good location - 15 minutes from Fabro exit on A1 autostrada. 15 minutes from Cetona. 10 minutes San Casciano dei Bagni. Palazzone is very pretty but small. Piazze is only 5 minutes away with two restaurants and stores. Very beautiful area with rolling hills. Quiet. The house feels very private. Shower (good one) no tub. Second bedroom (private) with a single bed. Nice brick floors. No desk, but a good dining room table (which you would need to use when cooking). Everything very pretty and in good shape. A very squeaky cat seems to come with the place.
This house has a melita coffee pot - we have never seen that before in Italy. Walked into the small village of Palazzone - about 10 minutes. They have two alimentaris and one caffe/restaurant, but the latter is closed for renovation.
Drove to Cetona for coffee. Tried to book lunch in Pienza but Latte di Luna was full, so booked at the San Casciano restaurant. Drove there for lunch. Had a wonderful last meal out in Italy.
Tomorrow we leave.
Monday, October 23
Left the house at 7:30am to drive to the Rome airport for a 12:30pm flight. The first part of the drive was in thick fog. Part of the autostrada near Rome was under construction, so there were slowdowns because of that. Arrived at the airport at 10:15. Returned the rental car, check in and did a long and exhausting flight home.
I went for my INS interview the next day and got sworn in as a US citizen three weeks later. Now I have a US passport for my next trip.
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